A limiter is a type of compressor designed for a specific purpose — to limit the level of a signal to a certain threshold. Whereas a compressor will begin smoothly reducing the gain above the threshold, a limiter will almost completely prevent any additional gain above the threshold. A limiter is like a compressor set to a very high compression ratio (at least 10:1, more commonly 20:1 or more). The graph below shows a limiting ratio of infinity to one, i.e. there is no gain at all above a the threshold.
Input Level vs Output Level With Limiting Threshold
Limiters are used as a safeguard against signal peaking (clipping). They prevent occasional signal peaks which would be too loud or distorted. Limiters are often used in conjunction with a compressor — the compressor provides a smooth roll-off of higher levels and the limiter provides a final safety net against very strong peaks.
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